India 316 for 6 (Kohli 85, Rahul 77, Sharma 63, Paul 3-59) beat West Indies 315 for 5 (Pooran 89, Pollard 74*, Saini 2-58) by four wickets
West Indies’ tour of India ended the way it began: denied by the bat of Virat Kohli after they had put in a fight despite losing the toss. Only, the master of chases fell with 30 runs still required and it was left to Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur to calm India’s nerves and they did that in style.
India were chasing 316 because of a stunning counterattack by Nicholas Pooran and Kieron Pollard that lifted them from 144 for 4 in the 32nd over, but it was still a relatively easy chase on a ground that India had to fight hard to defend 381 in its last ODI. The chase became difficult despite fifties from the openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul because once the partnership broke, West Indies kept finding a way to keep taking wickets, bringing India’s dodgy lower order into the picture. Except they couldn’t go past Kohli, who didn’t make the kind of mistakes his team-mates did.
As it had become apparent towards the end of the first innings, the little grip in the pitch that had tied the West Indies batsmen down had now given way to skiddy evening conditions. Sharma and Rahul had got India off to a fluent start with a 122-run stand in 21.2 overs. The dew had begun to play its part. Then Sharma fell driving Jason Holder on the up, Rahul got surprised by extra bounce from Alzarri Joseph, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant played slightly casual shots to Delhi Capitals team-mate Keemo Paul, and Sheldon Cottrell came back to clean Kedar Jadhav up.
India were 228 for 5, needed 88 off 67, which should be straightforward on most Indian evenings, but Kohli’s mannerisms told a different story. When Iyer and Pant fell, he turned away and put his head down, visibly disappointed with the junior partners. He asked Jadhav to stand in front of the stumps because Cottrell was unlikely to bring a ball back in for the lbw. Cottrell somehow snuck one back in through the gate. Kohli didn’t have West Indies fielders chirping him this time, but he was pumped up just as he was in the chase in the first T20 international.
Now was the time for Jadeja, back in the limited-overs set-up because of the batting depth he provides, to repay all the faith. This was the beginning of a partnership between India’s last recognised pair. Kohli was so excited he was probably taking runs that were not on. One such occasion brought West Indies a freakish opportunity, a chance that perhaps wouldn’t even have existed for other teams. Jadeja defended one just off the pitch, Kohli called him for what has become a regulation single these days, but Cottrell, the bowler, unleashed a right footer that surprised everyone and would have sent Kohli back had it not missed by inches.
Had Kohli been run out then, India would have needed 73 with four bowlers and Jadeja standing. That West Indies needed such extraordinary efforts to even have a chance against Kohli spoke of the mastery of the charged-up batsman. In the next few overs, Kohli and Jadeja calmly steered India towards safety, getting boundaries without taking risks.
The pivotal moment was the gamble with Khary Pierre, who didn’t need to bowl in the last 10 as the fifth bowler’s quota had been exhausted. Pollard, though, offered him to Jadeja in the 43rd over. Jadeja refused to take the bait, took just one run off the first two balls, but Kohli dissected Pierre’s non-turners with precision. Boundaries through a late-cut and a flick through midwicket brought him the fours to bring the task down to 53 off seven overs.
At the start of the 47th over, India needed 30, and Kohli exactly half of those for a century, but he chased a wide length ball and ended up playing on. This was only the fourth time he had been dismissed after the 45th over of a chase. This was only the first time in the last five years that he had crossed 80 in a chase and not converted it into a hundred. The crowd at Barabati Stadium didn’t know these stats, but they knew India had left it for their unfancied bowlers to get 30 runs. There was a loud hush around the stadium.
Thakur, though, came out batting in a positive manner. He drove the first ball he faced on the up and got four through extra cover. With 22 required off the last three overs, West Indies went to Cottrell’s last over. He began with a wide, bowled another bouncer too high, and when he got the bouncer right, Thakur obliged with a top edge on the hook. However, he had swung hard enough for the edge to sail over the fence. He followed it up with a flamboyant Ajit Agarkar-like bat swing to a full ball to beat long-on and all but kill the game. Jadeja remained unbeaten on 39 off 31.
Having come so close, West Indies might have some questions of the approach taken by Evin Lewis at the start of the innings when they were put in. They would have known they would need every single run if they were to perform the improbable task of denying India in a home chase with dew around. Lewis, though, faced 50 balls for 21 runs, his first shot in anger bringing his downfall. In Lewis’ defence, this was probably the time when the ball was not coming onto the bat.
Kohli wasn’t satisfied with the wicket of Lewis. Even though Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav were keeping the batsmen quiet, he went to his quicks in the middle overs. The return of Mohammed Shami brought the wicket of West Indies’ anchor man Shai Hope. Debutant Navdeep Saini, who was driven first ball for a four, came back to get rid of Shimron Hetmyer and Roston Chase with pace.
At that time, it seemed India were looking at a facile chase, but Pooran and Pollard had other ideas. Pollard hit seven sixes in his 51-ball 74, and Pooran batted beautifully to end up with 89 off 64. Thanks to them, West Indies added 105 in the last eight overs, leaving India stunned and frustrated. Kohli’s displeasure was apparent then, but he ended up with a smile of satisfaction.